I was first detained under the ISA at the International Airport exactly 25 years ago

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, at the Penang DAP State Dinner at Fortuna Restaurant, Penang on 18th May 1994 at 9 p.m. to commemorate his 25th anniversary as elected MP

I was first detained under the ISA at the International Airport exactly 25 years ago

I was detained under the Internal Security Act at the Subang International Airport exactly 25 years ago – on 18th May 1969.

I was detained at the Subang International Airport not because I was trying to escape from the country, but because against the advice of party leaders and my family, I insisted on returning to the country to be with the people at a time of national crisis – the May,13 riots.

I first heard of the news of the May 13 riots in Kuala Lumpur when I was speaking at a public rally in.Kota Kinabalu the same night, as after my election as MP for Bandar Melaka on l0th May 1969, I received a request from the Independent candidates in Sabah to go over to help them in their general elections – as voting in Sabah and Sarawak were two weeks after the voting in Peninsular Malaysia.

On May 14, the then Sabah Chief Minister, Tun Mustapha, invoked his state immigration powers and served me an evic¬tion notice to leave Sabah on the first available flight because of my criticisms and attacks on him at the public rally the previous night.

At that time, there was only one flight a day leaving Kota Kinabalu, at about 3 p.m., and I deliberately delayed to arrive late at the airport to miss the flight so that I could stay another day in Kota Kinabalu.

As it turned out, this was most fortunate for me, for I not only missed the flight, but also missed an attempt on my life. If I had arrived at the Kota Kinabalu Airport on time, I might not be here tonight – for I was told by the Police that Bajau horsemen had gone to the airport to ‘finish me off’ for my criticisms and attacks against Tun Mustapha the previous night.

On the morning of May 15, the Sabah police took me under ‘protective custody’, clearly to ensure that I leave Kota Kinabalu without any hitch.

At that time, MAS could not land in Subang because of the riots in Kuala Lumpur and the curfew. I disembarked in Singa¬pore and kept in touch with my constituents in Malacca, party leaders in Kuala Lumpur, Seremban, Ipoh and Penang and my family in Petaling Jaya by phone.

They gave me one common message – not to return for the moment, for I would be arrested as I was, on the “wanted list”.

However, I never had any doubt that I would return, regardless of whether I was on the ‘wanted list’ or not, as my place and duty was to be with the people at the moment of their trial especially as I had just been elected Member of Parliament.

It was only on 18th May, 1969 that MAS was able confirm that it could land at Subang Airport. I immediately booked a flight home from Singapore.

I still remember that just before I left for the Singapore airport, I rang up my wife in Petaling Jaya and assured her that I would not be returning for the moment – as I did not want her to worry what would happen to me on my return. She already had enough worries with four children to look after in the midst of riots and curfew – and Guan Eng, the eldest of the four, was only eight years old at the time, with the youngest only two years old.

On the flight from Singapore, I scribbled a note the airline postcard, asking my wife to understand why I had to return and to look after the children if I was arrested. I left the postcard in the airline hoping someone would post it for me. My wife never received that postcard. I will not be surprised if it is still in my Special Branch file!

I had however taken the precaution that if I am arrested, party leaders would know of it in the shortest possible time! For that reason, I had booked to fly from Singapore to Ipoh, so that if I do not appear at the Ipoh airport, party leaders who would be waiting for me there would know that I had been taken in.

When the flight landed at Subang Airport, all Ipoh-¬bound passengers had to disembark for immigration clearance. When I alighted from the aircraft, I found there was a long queue and two fully-armed personnel, together with an immigration officer at a desk, checking the passports of the passengers.

When it came to my turn, I asked whether they were waiting for me. The armed personnel were taken aback, looked at me and checked my passport, and asked me to follow them.

I was taken to a police car parked below the airport level and driven to the High Street Police Station in Kuala Lumpur, before I was sent to Kuala Selangor Police Lock-Up to start, my first day as an ISA detainee!
This was how I started my life as an elected Member of Parliament – being served with an eviction notice from Sabah and detained under the Internal Security Act at the Subang Airport.

Lim Keng Yaik would not be what he is today if not for the DAP

Gerakan and MCA leader are fond of asking what the DAP had achieved as an Opposition party.

One simple answer would be: Just as Dr. Koh Tsu Koon would not be Penang Chief Minister today if not for the DAP, Dr. Lim Keng Yaik would never have been a Minister if not for the DAP!

One of the first issues championed by the DAP after the restoration of Parliament in 1971 was the cause of the 750,000 new villages who for twenty years, had been left out of the mainstream of national development.

There was not a word of reference to the new villages in the Second Malaysia Plan 1971-75. In the Debate on the Devel¬opment Estimates in the Dewan Rakyat in December 1971, I devoted my entire speech to demanding a new deal for the 400 new villages in the country and the establishment, of a special government agency to plan the social and economic reconstruction of the new villages.

Although I was attacked by the Prime Minister, Tun Razak and other Government leaders at the time for inciting unrest among the new villages, Tun Razak was forced to admit the legitimacy of the DAP espousal and he created a special Ministry with Special functions with responsibility far new villages – and the beneficiary was Dr. Lim Keng Yaik.

Keng Yaik should not ‘return kind deeds with vendetta’

I also had to fight for funds and power for Keng Yaik’s Ministry, for in his first six months as Minister in charge of new villages in 1972, he was only empowered to spend RM60,000! This was what I said in Parliament in an exchange with Tun Razak during question, time on 15th August 1972 that Keng Yaik was no better than a ‘postman’ for the Cabinet, without powers, funds or manpower to uplift the socio-economic position of the new villages.

It was only after this exchange that Keng Yaik got more funds for his Ministry.

If Keng Yaik had not become Cabinet Minister because of the creation of the New Village Ministry as a result of DAP pressure in 1971, it is unlikely that he would be what he is today!

I do not expect Keng Yaik to be grateful to me, but the last thing he should do is to ‘repay kind deeds with vendet¬ta’!

In the seventies and eighties, Gerakan and MCA tried to sabotage the DAP struggle in Parliament to achieve for Chinese primary schools and Chinese education a rightful place in the mainstream of national education system

Three days ago, in Butterworth, the Deputy Education Minister, Dr. Fong Chan Onn, said that with 21,000 non-Chinese pupils studying in the Chinese primary schools in the country, the Chinese primary schools have become assets of the nation.

In the past few years, there have been more liberal and enlightened government attitude towards Chinese primary schools and Chinese education.

This was a far cry from the 1970s, when I first en¬tered Parliament. I can still remember the sense of outrage of UNMO MPs and Ministers when DAP MPs spoke in Parliament demanding that Chinese primary schools and Chinese education must be accorded the rightful place in the mainstream of the national education system.

It would appear that there was already a parliamentary culture among UMNO and MCA MPs that Chinese primary schools and Chinese education are not legitimate subjects for discussions in Parliament – although they may be referred to outside Parliament.

There were UMNO Ministers and MPs who were very angry that I kept returning to the issues of Chinese primary schools and Chinese education – as if I had committed a heinous offence in Parliament!

DAP MPs made a very important commitment when we took part in the first Parliamentary debate on February 23, 1971 on the 1971 Constitution Amendment Bill after the restoration of Parliament. I had declared that DAP MPs would not be cawed or intimidated and that DAP MPs had not been elected into Parliament to be yes-men, or to be browbeaten into silence, or to surrender their political objectives or principles.

I made this declaration in response to threats by the government at the time that Parliament would be closed down again unless the Constitution Amendment Bill was passed, as there was doubt at the time as to whether the Government could secure the necessary two-thirds majority.

It was in this spirit that together with other DAP MPs, I espoused the cause of Chinese primary schools and Chinese education in Parliament since the early 1970s – voting against the 1972 amendment to the 1961 Education Act to abolish the Boards of Managements of Chinese primary schools; moving a pri¬vate member’s bill to repeal Clause 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act, championing the proposed Merdeka University and calling for the abolition of the ‘ultimate objective’ of the National Education Policy.

However, the role of the Gerakan and the MCA in the 1970s and 1980s was to try to sabotage the DAP struggle in Parliament to achieve for Chinese primary schools and Chinese education a rightful place in the mainstream of national educational system.

In 1972, far instance, Gerakan voted in full support for the 1972 amendment to the 1961 Education Act, while in 1983, as MP for Tanjong, Dr. Koh Tsu Koon played a key role to help UMNO to ‘kill’ a DAP motion in Parliament to repeal Clause 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act.

If the DAP had not played our critical role in Parlia¬ment to change the Parliamentary culture in the 1970s where Chinese primary schools and Chinese education were regarded as ‘haram’ subjects, and continuously exposing the Barisan Nasional Government and UMNO MPs to the legitimate aspirations of Malay¬sians, Dr. Fong Chan Onn would not be talking today about Chinese primary schools being assets of the nation.

However, whether Chinese primary schools have actually. been regarded as as the “assets of the nation” by the Cabinet, or whether what the people are saying is only the playing of the ‘Chinese education card’ by Barisan Nasional for the forthcoming general elections, is still to be seen!

The greatest challenge to the DAP is the third phase of its struggle to fight for major liberali¬sation of nation-building policies to give every Malaysian an equal place under the Malaysian sun

I believe that in the past 25 years, the DAP had made significant contributions in nation-building. I would categorise these contributions in three phases.

The first phase was when the DAP had stood up, combatted and checked extremist and intolerat forces which wanted to stifle democracy, human rights and establish a ‘one-nation one language’ Malaysia, where Chinese primary schools for instance, would be phased out and replaced completely by: national primary schools.

Many DAP leaders paid a heavy price in the struggle of first phase, being detained under the ISA or prosecuted in the courts.

In the second phase, which could be dated as since the 1990 general elections, the DAP has compelled the Government to be more liberal and enlightened in its educational and economic policies. However, these liberalisation measures are minor and limited.

The greatest challenge to the DAP is the third phase of our political and parliamentary struggle – to bring about major liberalisation of nation-building policies to give every Malaysian an equal place under the Malaysian sun.

This is why the next general elections is so important – whether Malaysians are to give DAP a third consecutive general elections victory in the urban areas to give Dr. Mahathir Mohamed an unmistakable message that minor and limited liberalisations are not enough unless it is followed by major liberalisations in all aspects of nation-building policies.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, is very right when he spoke to Chinese audiences with the Chinese saying, “We Are One Family”. If “We Are One Family”, why are Malaysians still divided into bumiputeras and non-bumiputeras, and even worse, why are Malaysian Chinese and Indians who have been in this country for many generations regarded as ‘non-bumiputeras’, while illegal Indonesian or Filipino immigrants who came only last month and who could get false identity cards and documentation treated as ‘bumiputeras’?

As Kerk Choo Ting dares to claim credit for my release under ISA detention, one day he would claim credit for the appointment of Anwar Ibrahim as Deputy Prime Minister

The Gerakan and MCA of course will claim credit for everything, including the minor liberalisations since the 1990 general elections.

The Gerakan Deputy President, Kerk Choo Ting, even claimed that he was responsible for my release from my second ISA detention under Operation Lalang in April 1989.

Keik Choo Ting said that my family members approached him to help secure my release under ISA, and soon after he had written to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad on my behalf, Guan Eng and I were released from Kamunting Detention Centre.

This is a preposterous lie and Kerk Choo Ting is making a most fantastic claim.

If it was true that Kerk Choo Ting was so influential, that one letter from him could secure my release, why was Guan Eng and I the last two persons of the Operation Lalang detainees be released from Kamunting Detention Centre in April 1989?

My wife and children were shocked when they read of Kerk Choo Ting’s claim. Who is Kerk Choo Ting trying to bluff?

My family members knew fully well that my detention and the detention of Guan Eng were politically-motivated, and that the question of approaching anyone for help to get our release simply did not arise. Kerk Choo Ting had greatly insulted my family members by falsely claiming that they had ap¬proached him for help to secure my release.

In any event, nobody would have thought of him if anybody was looking for someone for help to secure my early release – for he is at the outer margin of the decision-making process in the government.

If Kerk Choo Ting can claim that my release from Kamunting Detention Centre in 1989 was because of his effort, what else would not Gerakan leaders claim credit for – like the minor liberalisations in nation-building in the past few years?

One day, Choo Ting may even claim credit for Anwar Ibrahim’s appointment as Deputy Prime Minister!